By Clint Buehler
An Edmonton MP is facing a firestorm of criticism after distributing a newsletter in which he called revered Metis leader Louis Riel a villain.
Conservative Edmonton East MP Peter Goldring was reacting to a proposal from the New Democrats that Riel be recognized as a Father of Confederation and that the conviction for treason that led to his hanging in 1885 be overturned.
In November, NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre) introduced the private member’s bill. “To paint him as a traitor is to compound a historical injustice,” Martin said.
“Riel was fighting for minority rights within Confederation and Canada should right that historical injustice in much the same way as it did when the federal government apologized to Aboriginal residential school survivors,” Martin said.
“To paint him as a traitor is to compound a historical injustice that is crying out to be remedied. Some redneck hillbilly in Alberta is not going to derail that project.”
“Riel didn’t father Confederation,” Goldring wrote. “He fought those who did.”
The Prime Minister’s Office was quick to condemn Goldring’s comments. A statement from the PMO said “this document is absolutely not an initiative of our government or our party. This is a personal initiative of MP Goldring which we strongly disapprove of.
“Louis Riel is a historical and controversial figure. But he played an important role in the development of Canada and in the protection of the rights and culture of the Metis and francophones in Canada.”
Calling Riel a “villain,” Goldring said he was responsible for all those who died during the Northwest and Red River “rebellions.” (The Metis and their supporters call them “resistances.”).
“Riel clearly chose to lead; he also clearly chose to instigate uprisings that caused many to die,” Goldring wrote. “As the leader of these uprisings, Riel is responsible for each and every death occurring as a consequence of his actions.”
“It’s a sad state of Canadian historical affairs when so many historically ill-informed persons busy themselves giving praise to Riel,” Goldring wrote, “ giving praise to Riel, naming new highways after him . . . the villain who caused 80 to die while General Middleton and his veteran Canadian soldiers are insulted, ignored and marginalized.”
Riel was a dedicated politician who fought for Metis rights in the 1800s. He created the Provisional Government at Fort Garry that became the foundation for the creation of the Province of Manitoba, and ultimately his recognition as Father of Manitoba. Elected to the House of Commons three times, he never took his seat in Ottawa because of threats against his life.
In exile in Montana, he was persuaded by Gabriel Dumont to return to Canada to provide inspiration to the Metis and their supporters in the Resistance of 1885 that ended at the Battle of Batoche.
Golding wrote in his newsletter that “to un-hang Louis Riel and to mount a statue to him on Parliament Hill would elevate anarchy and civil disobedience to that of democratic statesmanship.”
Ironically, just prior to this controversy—on February 18—Louis Riel Day was celebrated in Manitoba. It is also ironic that this should occur early in what the Metis National Council has proclaimed the Year of the Metis, the 125th anniversary of the hanging of Riel.
It was not only the PMO that levelled criticism. MPs of all parties—and, of course, Metis leaders and citizens—weighed in as well.
Manitoba Conservative MPs Shelly Glover and Rod Bruinooge, both Metis, said that while Goldring is entitled to his opinion, they don’t agree with him, nor does his party.”
Another Conservative MP, Edmonton Centre’s Lawrie Hawn, told CTV “I think it’s a little over the top. Louis Riel is a name that’s very highly thought of by many Canadians.”
Winnipeg Liberal Anita Neville said the Conservative party should apologize to the Metis for w2hat she called a “smear campaign” against the founder of Manitoba.
Metis leaders were not so soft in their criticism:
“We believed we had moved past that,” said Audrey Poitras, president of the Metis Nation of Alberta. “It’s really sad that we still have leadership of Canada who don’t understand the history of Canada, are either ignorant of the facts of that or are racist.”
Goldring’s views show a complete ignorance of history, according to David Chartrand, vice-president of the Metis National Council and head of the Manitoba Metis Federation. “Riel not only protected the rights of the Metis, but he also defended the West against raids from the United States.”